Total Abuse & Rusted Shut at Mango's, 8/1/2014
Photo by Jack Gorman
Rusted Shut, Total Abuse, RU-486, etc. Mango's August 1, 2014
Summer might have been in full swing on the sweat-soaked streets of Montrose, but no rays of sunshine made it anywhere near Mango's on Friday. Partly because the tiny club's windows are pretty well boarded up, sure. But the deep, dank darkness permeating the atmosphere inside the place mostly came courtesy of the mean slate of punk and noise acts that arrived devilishly eager to challenge listeners' musical tolerance levels.
The night's biggest draw, Austin's Total Abuse, is a hardcore band known for their particularly anguished and experimental take on the style. Perhaps unusually, they proved to be the most pop-friendly act on the bill. Sharing the stage were local noise-rock icons Rusted Shut, who have been hurting Houstonians' ears on purpose for well more than two decades.
Punk terrorists Cop Warmth and electronic noise acts Breathing Problem and RU-486 played too, filling out what must have been one of the angriest, most distorted lineups the state of Texas is likely to see this year. And Jesus, it was loud.
The evening started with the evil oscillations pumped out by RU-486, a one-man industrial noise project by Thomas Mortigan. Over a droning electronic thud that could have been the rhythmic humming of an amplified refrigerator, the artist controlled his soundscape with a large board of switches, knobs and pedals, producing cascading waves of heavily processed vocals. It wasn't rock, exactly, but Mortigan shook, rattled and rolled all the same as his harsh pulsations bounced around off of Mango's blacked-out walls.
The noise continued next with Austin's Breathing Problem, an even more unsettling power electronics project featuring Total Abuse singer Rusty Kelley and a young woman whose name I unfortunately didn't catch. The duo's difficult-to-stomach blasts of ugly sound were punctuated with worrying audio testimony from victims of crime and abuse clipped from newsmagazine programs. The charged atmosphere in the club got pretty intense as the pair of performers embraced one another tightly, taking turns screaming into the sopping-wet mike as they rocked back and forth together.
When the woman collapsed onto the stage and Kelley straddled her, slapping her in the face as he yowled, a few eyes bulged out of their sockets in the crowd. He didn't smack her hard enough to hurt much, but it was certainly hard enough to provoke a reaction.
"What the fuck was that shit?" asked one guy near me, loudly, as the anguished squelches died away. I couldn't and still can't quite come up with a useful answer to his question, but whatever it was, it was certainly memorable.
When Total Abuse assembled onstage, the little venue filled up in a flash. The band boasts a deep clutch of Texas fans and friends, and a couple hundred or so turned out to welcome their buds back to the Lone Star State after a two-week tour. All of a sudden, Mango's began to drip with sweat as the band ramped up its squalls of feedback into ugly, pummeling tunes reminiscent of punk iconoclasts Flipper or mid-'80s Black Flag.
Extremely heavy on the distortion and reverb, Total Abuse's live sound came out of the Mango's PA sounding as compressed and dirty as a fourth-generation cassette dub of somebody's personal, shrieking hell. There was practically no applause between songs; there was simply no space left in TA's sonic assault to accommodate it. Instead, fans showed their appreciation by bouncing into one another with demented glee during the band's thrashier passages.
Even Total Abuse themselves weren't immune to their own onslaught -- a floor tom flat-out collapsed toward the end of the set, and one of the guitarists finished on his knees. As I tried to take notes on the furor, a body flew into me and sent my smartphone flying, shattering the screen. Bit of a bummer, sure, but destruction of the obsolete was something of a musical theme on the evening, so I went with it.
Story continues on the next page.
If anyone had more fun on Friday night than Don Walsh of Rusted Shut, I didn't see him. As is traditional, the band's mean and clattering set was chock-a-block with fuck-yous and middle fingers, but Walsh was so obviously enjoying himself that the outrageous noise was far easier to take than it had any right to be.
In a twisted juxtaposition, an old episode of Willie Ames' Bibleman was projected behind the band as Walsh alternated unintelligible barking with demented laughter. "I'm gonna fuck you, bitch!" he screamed, as the pounding racket slowed to a crawl. When he started hollering "Kill! Kill!" over and over again, every face in the room was lit up with the twisted hope that Rusted Shut will never change.
By the time Cop Warmth was plugged in and bashing away, it was last call. A tough handful of fans stuck around to watch them wreck what was left of the place. As tired and deafened as they probably were, when the sunlight is as hot as it is during August in Houston, you've got to soak up all of the darkness that you can.
Personal Bias: Noise naïf.
The Crowd: Feedback fans.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I need another beer for this."
Random Notebook Dump: Part of the night's fun was identifying all the old music videos that were projected behind the acts. Mariah Carey pantomiming "I'll Be There" while Total Abuse bashed away was good stuff.
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